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Davis, John Henry and Kathleen (Durham)

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

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Kathleen Davis

(1943 - )

 

John Davis

(1943 - )

The couple relocated to Colorado in 1966 as newlyweds from Oberlin, Ohio, after a brief time in New York. John was a pilot with United Airlines his entire career until retiring in 2003.

Their introduction to Evergreen involved Realtor Walt Wilkerson who stated, "Evergreen isn't a place.  It's a way of life."  As long-time residents who invested in their community, John and Kathleen have helped to define that way of life in recent decades.

Within months they'd decided to join something in the community to meet other people.  An article in the Canyon Courier announced the regular meeting of The Evergreen Players to be held at the Public Service building.  They each signed up to help with some aspect of the next production; Kathleen's first assignment was doing "makeup."

Over the next 45 years, the couple would come to do "just about everything" related to The Evergreen Players, most notably, building a path to sustainability, although their roles in that capacity have been too quietly performed to have made the headlines or been put in lights on a marquis. For years they have each devoted about 40 hours/week to community theatre.

History of The Evergreen Players

The early productions were held in any one of a number of places -- what's now the Goodyear building on Bryant Drive, people's homes, churches, the Million Dollar Cactus Rose (where Lakepoint Center now stands), the quonset hut halfway between Evergreen and Conifer, the high school auditorium, and by 1968 The Little Log Theatre on the campus of the Church of the Transfiguration.  Since the early 1990s, it has rented space at Center/Stage from The Evergreen Chorale.

The Evergreen Players is considered to be the oldest continuously operating theatre company in Colorado.

John, who had worked on lighting in college productions, remembers making the first stage lights out of coffee cans and building the first stage at The Little log Theatre.  Because the theatre was used for other purposes during the summer months, the stage was disassembled annually before the summer began and reassembled again each fall.  The Players called The Little Log Theatre "home" for about 30 years.

The Evergreen Players had been started in 1950 as a play-reading group in the home of Willard and Mary Helen Crain.  Eleece and Jim Murphy were founding members with their children Jimy, Patty, and Marilyn very much a part of it all over the years.  The organization was comprised of area families who enjoyed the theatre and were able to participate in one way or another with family members.  Some of the early names include Jim and Jenise Harper; Judy Curtis and her son Scott; Peter Ray; Christine Ryker; and Jim O'Leary (who still directs plays in Denver); Toni and Bob Reddish; Eleanor and Fred Nickerson; Ross Grimes; Dr. George Kachidurian; Larry Washburn; and Larry, Gary, and Elaine Sohrweid.

John and Kathleen's two daughters were also involved. John recalls that their participation in Pippin required explanation of a lot of words and terms he struggled with personally.  Their daughter Anna went on to major in theatre and currently works as a professional stage manager in San Francisco.

Trey Parker performed as a teenager in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and went on to become well known for writing/producing the TV series South Park and the stage production Book of Mormon.

John and Kathleen both starred in Mary, Mary, which was performed at the Million Dollar Cactus Rose back in the days of a lot of Neil Simon shows.  For the first three or four decades, most of the actors were local, but in more recent years (since the 1980s) have come from throughout the metro Denver area, as commuting a distance has become more common.

Stories remembered

John recalled one night of a show when an actor could not be found.  He received a last-minute call asking him to fill in.  The part involved killing another actor, and those behind the scenes rushed onstage when the lights went out, fearful he had been too realistic in the scene and might have actually injured the one to be killed.

A fire at Mt. Evans caused one night of a show to be delayed because one of the actors was a firefighter.

A show had to be delayed one night because one of the actors had to be bailed out of jail.

The entire cast of Barefoot in the Park came down with the Hong Kong flu, requiring key people to be secluded in steam tents.

One actor hurt himself playing raquetball and performed three weeks of a show on crutches.

In The Little Shop of Horrors, props required a dentist's chair, produced from Dr. Kachidurian's office on Meadow Drive. Rather than lifting into a truck, the chair was placed on a cart and wheeled a quarter of a mile down the street to the Little Log Theatre.  During the show, the chair (still on the cart) began rolling toward the front edge of the stage.  One actor had to leap off the front of the stage to keep it from crashing into those in the front row!

One time when John was working lights from the sound and light booth with another volunteer Rick Deutch, the theatre had just gone dark when he looked over and discovered that Deutch had slumped over in death.  The lights were immediately turned back on, and one of the cast in that Christmas show – also a paramedic – was called upon to help.

Building sustainability

The Davises seemingly know every aspect of community theatre there is to know.  Kathleen has been involved as Director, Stage Manager, handling props and "lots of other jobs" as well as serving on the Board of Directors where she has served as President.  She'd had little experience with theatre before her first assignment to do makeup in 1966.

John, who did lights for many years, has done just about everything except directing.  He has been on the Board of Directors many times and served as President as well.

"The Players is an amazing group of people who keep changing," Kathleen says.  "There's always a level of passion for quality theatre.  They're always pushing the envelope.  That's what keeps me here."

"There are a lot of theatre companies where the founder 'owns' it," says John, pointing out that that sort of leadership can be maintained for a long period of time but that it's tough to sustain an organization after the leader is gone.

The Evergreen Players has definite life cycles with many families and is currently excited to be having younger adults and families once again join in.  The board of directors reflects the blending of ages.  Just as actors no longer stay with one company, providing a greater depth of talent, the board builds on the talent and experience of those who have been part of community theatre in other places.

Although the Davises have served as the core of the organization in recent years, known to have devoted 40 hours per week or more to this passion of theirs, they have methodically worked to divide up specific roles and farm them out in a businesslike way, hiring others to take on responsibilities to keep the success of the organization from being dependent on any one individual.  While volunteering endless hours was at one time the norm for most organizations, volunteers have fewer hours to devote at this point in time.

t;The budget has increased accordingly -- about 15 percent each of the past five to six years.  "Taking care of business" is as much a part of community theatre as is finding the actors to perform on stage.  One might not think of what goes on behind the scenes – backstage as well as up front at the box office, interfacing with the website, keeping the books, building sets, creating costumes, applying for and reporting on grants, and handling publicity to attract an audience.

Each production takes about three months of time from auditions to disassembling the sets after the final show.

The group now offers stipends to actors, directors, musicians, designers, and stage managers – "enough to cover gas expense," says Kathleen, but John points out that the stipends are "under the average" paid in the region.

Board members are part of a "working board," one that utilizes their skills in a variety of ways.  The organization has gotten away from using accountants on boards to actually keep the books, however, but rather to advise and oversee the accounting practices.

An average production costs between $9-15,000.  Most organizations supporting community theatre rely on grants and big donors; in Evergreen, a higher percentage of budget is met by box office receipts.  The Evergreen Players is a group that demonstrates that "people support success."

The organization is the recipient of many awards both locally and regionally.  Last year's production of Parallel Lives went all the way to national competition.  Although not the national winner, it was selected from the best of the best to show in the community theatre festival in Heidelburg, Germany.  All others showing in Heidelburg were from US military bases in Europe.

Extended involvement in community theatre

John currently serves as President of the Colorado Community Theatre Coalition (CCTC) and has been on the board of directors for 10 years.  In 2006 he was elected to the board of the American Association of Community Theatres where he continues to serve.

In 2000 Kathleen received a lifetime achievement award from CCTC.  In 2001, John was designated Arts Person of the Year by Center for the Arts Evergreen (CAE).

Both John and Kathleen have been involved with CAE over the years when it has gone by different names and had a variety of mission statements allowing it to serve different functions.  After the creation of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) that provides some tax dollars to local arts organizations, Evergreen's umbrella organization underwent a change to redefine its mission.

John served on a four-person board at that time to concentrate on the visual arts.  The board hired Lorene Joos as Executive Director and negotiated with Evergreen Park and Recreation District to make use of a structure that would have been torn down; thus the Arts Center was born.  John continues on the Long-range Planning Committee for CAE.

John is currently a flight instructor for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, flying all over the world to instruct.  "Flying an airplane and being on stage have at least one thing in common," John says, explaining that if something goes wrong, neither a pilot nor an actor can stop to consider the next move.  Each has to be a quick thinker, prepared for whatever might occur.

Kathleen recently retired from a career as a musician and piano teacher and is now pursuing her interests in writing poetry and short stories.  She will direct the upcoming production of Black Comedy in the spring of 2012.

John continues as treasurer of The Evergreen Players.  Both continue to invest 30-40 hours each week in community theatre.

 

Source:  Interview with John and Kathleen Davis; Evergreen, Our Mountain Community